Consumer rights are essential in an open market scenario, as fraudulence in the shape of misleading advertisements and falsified claims made by corporations can rid customers of their financial and emotional faith in the market altogether. Thus, consumer rights are not only about maintaining transparency and safeguarding the consumer but also to ensure that companies who practice transparent business practices don’t get affected by the fraudulent few.
With this idea in mind, the incumbent government has proposed a new bill, titled- Consumers Protection Bill, 2018. This bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on Jan 5, 2018. Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Ram Vilas Paswan introduced this bill on the Loksabha floor. This bill seeks to replace The consumers Protection Act, 1986. A similar bill was introduced in 2015 but that bill has been withdrawn with the introduction of this new bill.
The bill seeks to make punishment stricter for offenders, which include jail terms and hefty fines.
The rights of the consumer under this Bill-
In total six rights have been mentioned in this bill, these include but not restricted to –
- The consumer is to be protected against marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life and property;
- The consumer must be informed of the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods or services;
- The consumer must be assured of access to a variety of goods or services at competitive prices;
- The consumer must seek redressal against unfair or restrictive trade practices.
The consumer has also been defined by this bill, a consumer is defined as a person who buys any good or avails a service for a consideration. This bill has also taken cognizance of the changes in the market by covering transactions offline, online through teleshopping, electronic means, multi-level marketing or direct selling.
This Bill also aims to establish a Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), to promote, protect and enforce the rights of the consumers. It will also be a regulatory authority for matters related to matters of consumer rights. CCPA will also have an investigative wing, headed by Director-General, which will be empowered to conduct inquiries or investigations in cases of violation.
The Functions of the CCPA –
This bill states the functions of the CCPA, as such –
- The CCPA will inquire into violations of consumer rights, investigating and launching prosecution at the appropriate forum;
- The CCPA is authorized to pass orders to recall goods or withdraw services that are hazardous, reimbursement of the price paid, and discontinuation of the unfair trade practices, as defined in the Bill;
- The CCPA can issue directions to the concerned trader/ manufacturer/ endorser/ advertiser/ publisher to either discontinue a false or misleading advertising or modify it;
- The CCPA can impose penalties and issue safety notices to consumers against unsafe goods or services.
The penalties for such violations have been considerably raised under this bill. The bill empowers CCPA to impose a penalty up to 10 lakh for a misleading advertisement. The endorser can also be penalized for the same amount. The endorser can also be prohibited from endorsing that particular service or product for a time span of a maximum 1 year. Every subsequent offence will lead to an additional period of prohibition up to 3 years. All tough, there are certain exceptions in the bill in which, the endorser will not be held liable.
The manufacturer or service provider if commits a subsequent offence then their penalty will be up to 50 lakh and they can also face imprisonment for a maximum of two years, which is subjected to any subsequent offence committed, in that case, the imprisonment can be extended to a term of five years.
Grievance Redressal Apparatus –
This bill seeks to set up Consumer Dispute Redressal Commissions (CDRC) at, district, state, and national levels. These would be quasi-judicial bodies. A consumer can file a complaint with CDRC’s in relation to –
- unfair or restrictive trade practices;
- defective goods or services;
- overcharging or deceptive charging;
- the offering of goods or services for sale which may be hazardous to life and safety.
Complaints regarding unfair contracts can be filed with only the state and national CDRC’s. The appealing procedure will follow from the district level to the national level. The final appeal will lie before the Supreme Court. The central government will appoint members to these commissions. This bill also empowers the Central government to appoint, prescribe or remove conditions of service for members in the district, state, and national commissions.
The jurisdiction of CDRC’s –
The District CDRC will not entertain any complaints where the value of goods and services is worth more than one crore INR.
The State CDRC will entertain complaints where the value is more than one crore but does not exceed 10 crore INR.
The National CDRC will deal with complaints where the value is over 10 crore INR.
This legislative initiative will surely shield consumers from fraudulent exploitation and misleading tendencies in the marketplace.